Permaculturists believe that resilient communities are the answer to many of the world’s environmental problems. Rather than using a top-down approach, where a small group of people decide what’s right for everyone, individuals are empowered to contribute their skills to the communal good, meeting their own needs and helping others do the same.
It’s no coincidence that many people dream of quitting their jobs, moving to the country with a small group of best friends, buying neighbouring homes and businesses and living happily ever after. An anecdotal survey of my city friends reveals this to be the case among 98 per cent of people at some point in their adult working life.
Earlier this year, a real survey conducted by the University of Melbourne found that Australians who live in towns of fewer than 1,000 people are significantly happier than others.
What’s that about?
Zero traffic congestion, lower crime rates, lesser costs of living and, as a result, more breathing room when it comes to making mortgage payments and covering bills are all possible reasons.
But I think the answer must be something closer to the community that small towns cultivate.
My sister moved to a small beach town some years ago and she used to joke about its Summer Bay qualities – like everyone in town getting an invite to the 18th birthday party, no matter their age or connection to the birthday boy.
But this is what all communities used to be like; all ages, all walks of life sharing a living space (to some degree) and interacting in a complex web of symbiosis. It’s the natural way, actually, and countless examples can be found in nature at all levels, from the bacteria in our guts to the interconnectedness of the world — a living, breathing entity. Or said another way, it’s the natural order of ecosystems.
I’ve been thinking about community a lot in recent times and here’s why: Permaculturists believe that resilient communities are the answer to many of the world’s environmental problems. Rather than using a top-down approach, where a small group of people decide what’s right for everyone, and then attempt to implement the solution at scale (never gonna happen), individuals are empowered to contribute their skills to the communal good, meeting their own needs and helping others do the same. Because people are intimately connected to one another, and their immediate environment, they are more aware of what’s needed for their unique situation and hopefully more aware of the impact of their decisions on their environment and on others too.
Even without that level of analysis, there’s simply an added element of happiness that comes from knowing and trusting the people around you.
There’s also an element of healthy perspective that comes from living in a connected community. Over the past year, my mum has become a full time carer for my grandmother, who now has a severe form of dementia. On the few occasions I’ve been around to help, I’ve felt a deep sense of privilege to be able to care for my grandparents in some way, whether it’s cooking dinner for them, having a dance or a sing with Nanny, or talking the day over with my mum, who is an absolute super woman. Witnessing the care my mum puts into her parents’ lives triggers a major perspective shift – that copywriting deadline that seemed so urgent yesterday suddenly takes its rightful place as a menial task that must be done, but not today.
And when you think about evolving relationships, there’s a natural order of things there too. Nanny and Bob Bob played a huge part in my (and my siblings’) childhood, helping mum care for us when she worked and we were little (as did Dad’s parents). If you consider the family as an ecosystem, it makes sense that each person plays a different, complimentary role, which develops and matures like any living thing. Those with strength do the heavy lifting; those with experience doll out the advice; and those who are yet to develop their talents, or those who may lose some of their faculties, will be cared for by the others.
It turns the notion of individualism on its head. How can one person ever expect to have it all, do it all and continue doing so, their whole life?
So the idea of moving to a small town and creating the “piazza effect” (the Italian ritual of gathering in the town centre every evening) grows even more attractive.
But as more and more Australians stay or move to the cities for other favourable reasons, there has to be a way to capture that small town spirit in our own urban day.
When I live seven hours south of my family roots, how can I get in on this community business?
If you are unsure whether you lack community, tick all that apply:
This list is not an attempt at shaming anyone, but an outline of a way of living that is quite common in cities. So if working in our local area, or moving to the country is not an option, what are our options?
I pulled together a list of simple tactics that have worked for me, or I’ve heard from others (I’m still working on it!). You can take a look via the link below.
If you have any of your own suggestions, add them in the comments.
UPDATE June 2019: I wrote this post some time ago, when I was living in the Eastern suburbs of Sydney and commuting into inner Sydney each day. At the time, I was (clearly) feeling a lack of community in my life, which I’m thankful to say has changed – particularly living in Orange now, but it changed in Sydney life too – thanks to some of the tips I shared in the download. While my situation and view has changed, I still think the advice is current and hope you find it useful. JS.
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